‘I Knew I Was Having a Stroke’: Charles Baines Describes Stroke Symptoms, Recovery

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Charles Baines III. Riverside Health System photo.

By Carol Vaughn —

Charles Baines, 49, of Painter, seems like the last person one would expect to suffer a stroke — and yet he did, in January.

A stroke can happen to anyone at any time.

Baines, a champion kickboxer who also is an officer in the Accomack County Sheriff’s Office, in October 2019 brought home a bronze medal from the WAKO World Senior Kickboxing Championship, held in Sarajevo. He was named a member of the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations’ Team USA the previous year.

Baines, the oldest member of the team, was one of 30 Team USA members competing at the championships — and was one of four to win a medal.

Baines started practicing martial arts at age 3. He has been named American kickboxing champion in three different weight classes.

He was eating healthy, including following a vegan diet during training; he was working out; and he has a strong mental and spiritual discipline.

And yet, he was not immune to stroke.

“I knew I was having a stroke,” Baines said in a recent phone interview.

Jan. 23 was the day it happened — he had tested positive for COVID-19 and was off work during the required quarantine period.

“Two weeks later, on my day off, there it was — I had a stroke,” he said.

Baines was getting ready to shave.

“I looked in the mirror and I saw my face slide down,” he said.

Despite having no pain, he recognized it as a sign of a stroke, in part because two friends, James Abbott and Megan Parks Smith, both of whom work in the medical field, had taught him the signs, one of which is one side of the face sagging.

“I knew I was having a stroke,” Baines said.

Baines said what is advised in such a situation is to call 911. Still, his instinct was to drive from his home to Exmore, where he knew friends were who could drive him to the hospital.

“Survival mode kicked in,” he said.

He couldn’t speak, but he knew where he was.

Deputies, state police, and Exmore police saw to it he got to the hospital “in good time so they were able to administer the medicine,” he said.

It is critical to get medical attention within the window where clot-busting medication can be used to help restore blood flow to the affected area of the brain.

Baines ended up being taken by medical helicopter to Riverside hospital in Newport News, where he remained a week.

Lying in bed in the hospital, Baines said to himself, “Okay, what are you going to do now, Baines?”

“I said, ‘We’ve got to do like David.’ I started encouraging myself,” he said. He told himself he was going to have a speedy recovery and that “this is not the end of my story.”

Baines relied on his faith and mental discipline to stay positive as he began the hard work to recover from the stroke.

“Mentally, you have to be in a spot…There are two balls over top of your head — one is positive and one is negative. Whichever ball you release, it comes down that hill and picks up snow and makes the ball bigger,” Baines said.

That energy affects physical healing, he said.

At first, Baines stayed mostly to himself, concentrating on healing and using scripture to encourage himself.

“My thought was, how are we going to work for good,” he said.

The third day, he could not move his arm or his hand.

“I talked to my body. I said, ‘You are on team Baines.’… It’s like I’m training for the World Games again,” he said.

He pushed and pushed himself. It took and hour and 40 minutes, but eventually he was able to move his arm a little bit.

“I was totally exhausted,” he said.

Baines said “part of recovery is having the right network,” that small circle of relatives and friends who encouraged him spiritually, particularly in those first days and weeks. Another circle was his martial arts cohort, who encouraged him in his physical recovery.

A wider network included the many church congregations on the Shore that he knew were praying for him.

“I’m ever so thankful for all the love that the Shore gave me and the rest of the world gave me,” he said.

Baines, who plans to return to work next month, says he was blessed to get medical treatment in time — and he wants others to know to take the signs and symptoms of stroke seriously. “You’re not going to shake a stroke off. … You need immediate medical attention,” he said.

Baines was featured in May, National Stroke Awareness Month, in a video made by Riverside to highlight the importance of recognizing the signs of a stroke, which is the fourth leading cause of death in Virginia.

Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News is one of six certified comprehensive stroke centers in Virginia.

Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital, along with Riverside Doctors’ Hospital in Williamsburg and Riverside Walter Reed Hospital, is a certified primary stroke center. These hospitals have a dedicated stroke program with specially-trained medical professionals, individualized care plans for patients, and a strict adherence to the latest evidence-based care.

Heather Jarvis, stroke coordinator at Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital, talked about signs of stroke and what people should do if they suspect they or someone around them is suffering a stroke.

Jarvis work includes educating Riverside employees, emergency medical personnel, and community members.

“What we teach is the acronym, BE FAST,” she said, adding, “Keep in mind that all of these signs and symptoms are sudden.”

The letters stand for:
B – Balance
 – Is the person suddenly having trouble with balance or coordination?

E – Eyes – 
Is the person experiencing suddenly blurred or double vision or a sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes?

F – Face Drooping
 – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.

A- Arm Weakness
 – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S – Speech Difficulty – 
Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence like, “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?

T – Time to call 911 – 
If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 911 and get them to the hospital immediately.

Jarvis emphasized it is critical to get the person to the hospital right away.

Ways to minimize risk from stroke include knowing the signs and knowing one’s personal risk factors — including things that can’t be controlled, like age, race, gender, and family history, as well as factors that can be dealt with, like high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, obesity, and lack of exercise.

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